USA Today offers opinion columns about the privacy and security of consumers’ Internet use.
USA Today’s view, “These ‘cookies’ aren’t tasty; you’re left hungry for privacy“:
What if the next time you visited your local mall, a gaggle of detectives quietly followed you around taking notes on every store you visited, every item you bought, every movie you saw. […]
Well, companies of many types are routinely doing just that — keeping tabs on your interests, purchases, likes and dislikes and making major assumptions about you — every time you surf the Internet. […]
The surveillance is intrusive, pervasive and largely unregulated. Most consumers haven’t a clue how much information about them is being gathered and stored for sale, nor do they have a reliable way to stop it. Even computer experts we interviewed were flabbergasted by recent Wall Street Journal reports that the 50 most popular Internet sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files (commonly known as “cookies”) on a test computer the newspaper set up. Dictionary.com, of all places, had the most tools; Wikipedia.org was the only site among the 50 to install none. […]
Also, tracking companies so far aren’t generally connecting your surfing habits to your name or e-mail address — at least not yet. But they could. Collecting data violates no laws, and tracking companies are largely unregulated. There is no agreement on what should be out of bounds, such as employment, financial or medical data. And the data can be held indefinitely. Perhaps for the day when providing it to prospective employers or insurance companies becomes big business.
The opposing viewpoint, from Randall Rothenberg, who is the president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents more than 460 leading media and technology companies, “Don’t fear Internet tracking“:
A wild debate is on about websites using “tracking tools” to “spy” on American Internet users. Don’t fall for it. The controversy is led by activists who want to obstruct essential Internet technologies and return the U.S. to a world of limited consumer choice in news, entertainment, products and services.
They have rebranded as “surveillance technology” various devices — cookies, beacons and IP addresses — that fuel the Internet. Without them, Web programming and advertising can’t make its way to your laptop, phone or PC. […]
Thousands of small retailers and sites devoted to niche hobbies, ethnic minorities, sports teams, politics, “mommy blogs” and myriad other interests — as well as local businesses, such as your neighborhood car dealer and grocer — depend on these tools. Regulating them unwisely puts [such people] at risk. […]
The information they use to deliver content is impersonal. Unlike newspaper and cable-TV subscription data, it doesn’t contain your name or address. Yet activists and the uninformed are seeking a standard that would force websites to collect real personal information from you, if you want to receive content relevant to your life. […]
Federal regulation of the Internet is one more Big Government idea that’s inimical to consumer choice, the First Amendment, communications diversity and economic growth.